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China operatives hack Israel government, tech companies

August 11, 2021 at 4:13 pm

The FireEye Inc. logo on a laptop computer in New York, US. on 30 January 2021 [Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

Chinese hackers successfully hacked computers belonging to the Israeli government and tech companies between 2019-2020, according to the international cybersecurity firm FireEye.

The company’s report revealed that the Israeli targets included state bodies as well as private organisations from the fields of shipping, technology, telecommunications, defence, academia and information technology.

Sanaz Yashar, who led FireEye’s investigation into Israeli targets, said the attacks could be linked to Israeli infrastructure projects that China is involved in, including Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

“There are a lot of Israeli companies that are involved in the very fields at the core of Chinese interests, as reflected in their five-year plans,” Yashar told Haaretz.

“Their goal isn’t necessarily always to steal intellectual property; it’s possible that they’re actually looking for business information.”

“In the Chinese view, it’s legitimate to attack a company while negotiating with it, so they will know how to price the deal properly.”

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She added: “When the Chinese do business, they don’t enter the contract with their eyes shut. They examine the other offers, the board of directors’ emails, correspondence among people, what the intrigues are and who the key people are.”

The first evidence pointed directly at Iran, Israel’s most contentious geopolitical rival. The hackers deployed tools normally associated with Iranians and wrote in Farsi.

However, following further examination of the evidence including information from other cyber-espionage cases across the Middle East, analysts found Chinese operatives had posed as a team of hackers from Tehran.

Earlier this year, a Malaysian organisation calling itself DragonForce claimed to have hacked various Israeli CCTV networks, including homes and government agencies. While Israeli businesses and institutions including Israel Aerospace Industries, the Shirbit insurance company, and the Amital software company were subjected to a series of cyberattacks last year.